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Artist, collector of encyclopedias

William Wegman: Artist, collector of encyclopedias

Artist William Wegman has been holing up in an old lodge in Rangeley, Maine, each summer with his family and Weimaraners for years, and it shows. The proof is in “William Wegman: Hello Nature”  at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, through Oct. 21. 

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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WEGMAN: The “Marquise of O and Other Stories” by Heinrich von Kleist, a German writer. He gives you pretty much the ending, then dazzles you with how you got there. He was a pretty intense romantic who committed suicide in 1811. My wife is an amazing reader and she’s heavy into German and Viennese writers like Robert Walser. She arranged for the English translation of “The Microscipts,” which Walser wrote in an asylum. I read pretty much anything she dumps next to me.

BOOKS: Does she read mostly European writers?

WEGMAN: I would say so, Germans in particular. Another favorite of ours is the Portuguese writer Jose Maria de Eca de Queiros’ “The Maias.” He reminds me of Marcel Proust but not as poisonous. I also have been reading “Dr. Faustus” by Thomas Mann for three years. I love Mann and read “The Magic Mountain” in art school. I love [“Dr. Faustus”] but then I get annoyed, put it down, and read other things. I’ll finish eventually. I’m also in the habit of not finishing books I really love because I don’t want them to end. I started reading Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” in college, finished it seven years later and burst into tears.

BOOKS: What draws you to German literature?

WEGMAN: Maybe, it’s mostly because of [my wife] Christine, but with Walser’s “The Tanners” and “The Assistant,” two amazing books, I don’t know if it’s because they are German so much as the language is so surprising, so quiet, and so funny.

BOOKS: How would you describe your reading habits before her?

WEGMAN: I was trying to read lots about music. I read medieval music history or Renaissance composers, but never got very far. Probably most of my reading was CD notes.

BOOKS: Have you read biographies of composers?

WEGMAN: “Gesualdo” by Glenn Watkins. He was a sadomasochistic nobleman who murdered his wife when he found her in bed with someone. He’s a great read in other words.

BOOKS: Any all-time favorite books?

WEGMAN: Not long ago I read “Dead Souls” by Nikolai Gogol along with Vladimir Nabokov’s biography of him, which made for a great combination. I loved Gogol’s weird characters and the oddity of the geography.

BOOKS: Do you read for your work at all?

WEGMAN: For my movies I did a lot of reading of “The Hardy Boys” series by Franklin Dixon. I read them as a kid, but now I realize how bad they are. At least the covers are nice.

BOOKS: Do you collect books?

WEGMAN: I have tons of encyclopedias because at every yard sale someone is giving their copies of “World Book Encyclopedias” or “Book of Knowledge” away. I am staring at 12 sets in my studio, which I’ve raided for pictures and texts. Until yesterday we didn’t get Internet up here so they’ve been kind of handy.

BOOKS: Are they current enough to use?

WEGMAN: For me, because I’m stuck in the past. Especially when I’m in Maine. Being here reminds me of what I did when I was an adolescent.

BOOKS: How does your reading change in Maine?

WEGMAN: I only read in Maine. I can’t read in New York City. There’s so much crap to do, and there’s the little games on the phone, which I discovered last year to the detriment of my New York reading.

BOOKS: Do you read about dogs?

WEGMAN: I don’t. I hate to. I have four dogs right now so I don’t need to read about dogs.

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